Thursday, 14 February 2008
By PAUL LUNGEN, Staff Reporter
A proposed counter-conference that would run parallel to Durban II continues to gather support from parliamentarians around the world, says Senator Jerry Grafstein, left, the Canadian lawmaker behind the alternative event.
Grafstein has been calling on his contacts among parliamentarians around the world for their support for an anti-Durban conference that would run in the same city as Durban II – the followup to the 2001 United Nations anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa – but would focus on anti-racism and anti-Semitism.
The parallel conference would serve as a corrective to the UN-sponsored gathering, which is likely to reprise the anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism that characterized the original Durban conference, Grafstein said.
U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings has agreed to join Grafstein as head of an organizing committee.
MPs from a number of western democracies and other states have given verbal support to the parallel conference. “I’ve discussed it with parliamentarians in Europe, Africa, the United States, Australia and Canada, and so far the response has been positive,” Grafstein said. “They like the idea in principle.”
Grafstein said he expects many will sign on to assist in assembling a program “of outstanding international speakers” and to offer suggestions that would help in organizing the event.
Participants and observers at the original Durban conference, known officially as the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, were shocked at the extreme anti-Semitic rhetoric and propaganda that circulated at the event.
The followup conference, dubbed Durban II, is being organized by a committee established by the UN Human Rights Council, which itself has been accused of focusing almost exclusively on Israel while ignoring human rights abuses around the world. The UN body has appointed Libya to chair the preparatory committee organizing Durban II, and the committee includes such anti-Israel advocates as Iran and Cuba.
Canada has announced it would not take part in Durban II. Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, and Jason Kenney, secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity, issued a statement last month that said: “Canada has a long and proud history of fighting racism, discrimination and intolerance in all its forms. It was for this reason, and its promise of concerted global action against racism, that we participated in [Durban I]. Unfortunately, that conference degenerated into open and divisive expressions of intolerance and anti-Semitism that undermined the principles of the United Nations and the very goals the conference sought to achieve.
“Secretary of State Kenney and I had hoped that the preparatory process for the 2009 Durban Review Conference would remedy the mistakes of the past,” Bernier said. “We have concluded that, despite our efforts, it will not. Canada will, therefore, not participate in the 2009 conference.”
Grafstein noted that Liberal leader Stephane Dion has backed the official Canadian position. Grafstein said that the government’s refusal to attend “is a major step forward from the last time.”
The UN has shown repeatedly that it’s tilted against Israel, Grafstein continued.
Louise Arbour, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, at first supported an Arab League human rights charter that equated Zionism with racism. Arbour reversed herself and criticized that aspect of the charter only after she was pressured to moderate her position, he said.
In proposing an alternative conference, Grafstein said he was inspired by the 1936 “People’s Olympiad,” which was organized as a protest to the official Olympic Games being in Nazi Germany.
That alternative competition, which was to have been held in Barcelona, was cancelled after Spain plunged into civil war.
Grafstein said an alternative to the Durban II conference would permit human rights advocates to meet at a “balanced conference” and take advantage of the media presence and “so we can act as a restraint on UN officials. This time, they won’t get a free ride